A bunion (also referred to as hallux valgus or hallux abducto valgus) is often described as a bump on the side of the big toe. However, the visible bump on the toe is reflective of changes to the bone framework of the front part of the foot. The big toe leans into the second toe, rather ten pointing straight ahead. This throws the bones out of alignment, producing a bunion, noted as a bump.
Bunions are a progressive disorder. They begin with a leaning of the big toe, gradually changing the angle of the bones over the years and slowly producing the characteristic bump, which becomes increasingly prominent. Symptoms usually appear at later stages, although some people never have symptoms.
Although bunions themselves are not inherited, a certain foot type which is inherited can make a certain person more prone to developing bunions. With the progressive nature of bunions, people can develop any of the symptoms listed below as the condition gets worse. While wearing shoes that crowd the toes together won’t create bunions, it can make the deformity of the toes progressively worse, allowing for symptoms to appear sooner.
Symptoms, which occur at the site of the bunion, may include:
- Pain or soreness
- Inflammation and redness
- A burning sensation
- Possible numbness
Symptoms occur most often when wearing shoes that crowd the toes, such as shoes with a tight toe box or high heels. This may explain why women are more likely to have symptoms than men. In addition, spending long periods of time on your feet can worsen the symptoms of bunions.
Sometimes observation of the bunion is all that’s needed. To reduce the chance of damage to the joint, periodic evaluation by the chiropodist is recommended.
In many other cases, however, some type of treatment is needed. Early treatments are aimed at easing the pain of bunions, but they won’t reverse the deformity itself. These include:
- Changes in shoewear. Wearing the right kind of shoes is very important. Choose shoes that have a wide toe box and forgo those with pointed toes or high heels which may aggravate the condition.
- Padding. Pads placed over the area of the bunion can help minimize pain.
- Activity modifications. Avoid activity that causes bunion pain, including standing for long periods of time.
- Medications. Oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be recommended to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Icing. Applying an ice pack several times a day helps reduce inflammation and pain.
- Injection therapy. Although rarely used in bunion treatment, injections of corticosteroids may be useful in treating the inflamed bursa (fluid-filled sac located around a joint) sometimes seen with bunions.
- Orthotic devices. In some cases, custom orthotic devices may be recommended and provided by the chiropodist.